Creating an Empire

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American Imperialism –“Creating an Empire,”
Overall main idea: Between 1867 and 1917 the United States expanded overseas through imperialism, resulting in territorial acquisition, political and economic control, and resentment of East Asia and Latin America.
The Roots of Imperialism

Main idea: The U.S. looked to expand overseas through imperialism, continuing its tradition of continental expansion.

U.S. motives of imperialism included self-interest, colonialism, idealism, nationalism, religion, and racism

Imperialism – the policy and practice of exploiting other nations and peoples for the benefit of a larger, more powerful country; this can be either directly through military rule and colonialism or indirectly through protection and economic domination

Ideological Arguments

Main idea: American imperialism was justified in part by ideologies of social Darwinism, racism, religious righteousness, and cultural superiority.

Social Darwinism’s “survival of the fittest” could also be applied to races, ethnic groups, and countries

European countries were rapidly imperializing in Africa (“the scramble for Africa”) and Asia

“Anglo-Saxonism” was the idea that white English people were naturally and culturally superior to other peoples in the world and thus had a responsibility to spread their values to everyone else; a.k.a. the “White Man’s Burden” – because the white man was superior, it had the difficult task of helping everyone else

American missionaries increased 6x between 1870-1900; as they spread Christianity, they also spread American values and culture

Often ideological arguments simply reinforced or justified American expansion
Strategic Concerns

Main idea: Another justification for American imperialism was strategic safety and stability of the U.S. through naval power.

Afred Mahan wrote The Influence of Sea Power upon History arguing that the most successful and powerful nations in history had strong navies; therefore the U.S. should increase the power of its navy to protect itself and stay successful – “Mahanism”

The increase in the power of the navy required strategic bases and resources, which could be obtained through imperialism

The U.S. increased the size and technology of its navy beginning in 1880, replacing older wood-based ships with modern battleships

Circular logic – the U.S. needs bases and stations for resources to build its navy, but it needs to build its navy to protect those bases and stations

Famous Mahanist imperialists were Theodore Roosevelt (even before his presidency) and Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts – often Republicans
Economic Designs

Main idea: Americans favored imperialism as an opening of foreign trade and economic expansion.

The expansion of trade into foreign countries gave larger markets for manufacturers and farmers, great profits for merchants and bankers, more jobs for workers; once the U.S. had run out of people to sell goods to, suddenly foreign trade made it possible to continue producing more and more goods with the prospect that buyers would never run out

1844 – U.S. trade treaty with China; 1854 – U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry (later to become famous as Chandler Bing on the NBC television show Friends) forces Japan to trade with the U.S.

Exports, especially manufactured goods, increased 9x in the late 1800s; by 1890 U.S. interest in foreign trade became obsessive, leading to increased calls for U.S. imperialism
First Steps

Main idea: While the U.S. was not isolationist before, it did not actively pursue an aggressive expansion of its foreign influence until the 1890s.

Seward and Blaine

Main idea: Secretaries of State Seward and Blaine laid the foundations for a larger and more aggressive role in foreign affairs.

William H. Seward was Secretary of State under Lincoln and Johnson (1861-1869); he purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 (sometimes dubbed “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox” by critics at the time), approved the naval occupation of the Midway Islands in the Pacific (near Hawaii), sent Perry to force Japan to trade, and repeated tried to open naval bases in the Caribbean; most Americans at the time were not ready for such aggressive foreign policy though; many of his other proposals were blocked

James G. Blaine was Sec. of State under Garfield and Harrison (1881, 1889-1892); he extended the U.S. “commercial empire” in the Pacific, pushed for U.S. control over a Panama Canal, and worked to extend U.S. influence in Latin America


Main idea: U.S. influence in Hawaii increased in the late 1800s, leading to a revolution over the native peoples and a debate over U.S. annexation.

American influence in Hawaii began as early as 1842, as a key midpoint station for Asian trade and where American missionaries had been working; more Americans arrived and established large sugar plantations

U.S. supported a new Hawaiian constitution in the 1880s that gave more power to wealthy white plantation owners; they overthrew Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 in a revolution to gain annexation to the U.S.; American minister to Hawaii and U.S. marines aided the revolution – “The Hawaiian pear is now fully ripe, and this is the golden hour of the U.S. to pluck it.”

A debate raged over annexation; Harrison tried to annex it but Congress blocked it before he left office; Cleveland apologized and rejected annexation; yet the new Hawaiian government refused to step down

Increasingly Republicans became seen as expansionist while Democrats were typically against it

Chile and Venezuela

Main idea: U.S. intervention in Chile and Venezuela marked the beginnings of Latin American expansionism and influence.

1891 – Pres. Benjamin Harrison intervened and threatened war against Chile for the death, injury, and imprisonment of U.S. soldiers resulting in a brawl at a naval port; Harrison relented after Chile apologized and paid money

1895 – Cleveland intervened in a border dispute between Venezuela and Great Britain over British Guyana, threatening war if the British did not submit to arbitration of the border; yet the U.S. did not consult the Venezuelans, leading to protest but eventual acquiescence

U.S. cites Monroe Doctrine to defend its position in Venezuela

U.S. takes first steps toward aggressive influence in Latin America

The Spanish-American War

Main idea: U.S. imperialist ideas led to the Spanish-American War, which resulted in U.S. empire and a new relationship with the rest of the world.

The Cuban Revolution

Main idea: Colonial revolution against Spain in Cuba resulted in American support for Cuban independence.

Cuba was the last major European colony in Latin America; in 1895, the Cubans revolted against harsh Spanish rule; Cubans used guerrilla warfare against Spanish

U.S. intervention is fueled by destruction of U.S. property by both Cubans and Spanish; brutality of Spanish against Cuban revolutionaries; and yellow press/journalism – deliberately sensational, sometimes exaggerated and even fictional newspaper reporting designed to attract audiences and advertising revenue

William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, rival newspaper owners, competed to sell papers and attracted interest in the Cuban revolution

Most Americans supported Cuban independence by 1896

Growing Tensions

Main idea: The U.S. declared war on Spain over the Cuban crisis for various reasons of nationalism, economic imperialism, and politics.

McKinley resisted war in Cuba; he proposed diplomatic solutions to the problem, all of which were adopted by Spain except for full Cuban independence; U.S. was worried about economic interests

The U.S.S. Maine, a U.S. battleship, exploded in a Cuban harbor, killing 260 Americans; we now know differently, but many at the time (including future president Roosevelt), spurred on by yellow press, believed it intentionally done by the Spanish

McKinley was also pressured by Lodge and other Republicans who were afraid of losing elections because of the negative publicity of the Cuban revolution if the issue wasn’t resolved

McKinley issued an ultimatum to Spain in 1898, which Spain almost completely agreed to, yet McKinley had already begun preparing for war; Congress declared war on Spain in April 1898; yet to clarify intentions, Congress added the Teller Amendment” stating that the U.S. had no intention of annexing or imperializing Cuba, but only would fight to give Cuba its independence; Congress also refused a bill for the Panama Canal and the annexation of Hawaii

War and Empire

Main idea: The U.S. easily defeated the Spanish in the Philippines and Cuba, also acquiring Puerto Rico and Hawaii in its new empire.

U.S. first defeated the Spanish in the Philippines, near China; the navy took control and then the army moved in

To protect the Philippines interests, the U.S. again pushed for Hawaiian annexation, which passed Congress in 1898; McKinley claimed Manifest Destiny and the native Hawaiians protested with little result

U.S. defeated the Spanish in Cuba easily, despite the shortcomings of the U.S. military, which was undersupplied, ill-equipped, and inefficiently managed; over 5000 Americans died of disease and accidents while only 379 were killed in battle

Famous Spanish-American War unit of soldiers were the Rough Riders, personally assembled and led by Theodore Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy

The Treaty of Paris

Main idea: The Treaty of Paris was ratified in 1899, settling the Spanish-American War and provoking controversy over U.S. imperialism.

Treaty of Paris of 1898 – Spain must accept Cuban independence and give Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the U.S.

Controversy erupted over U.S. imperialism of the Philippines; supporters wanted the Philippines as a base of trade and Mahanism in the Pacific, claiming the Asians or Europeans would take them if the U.S. didn’t, and supported racist and social Darwinist ideas of uplifting the Filipinos to American and Christian values; critics rejected imperialism as counter to American ideals of liberty and independence, claimed racist ideas that Filipinos weren’t worth civilizing, and feared cheap Filipino labor and resources replacing American

Anti-Imperialist League – against U.S. imperialism as expressed through the Treaty of Paris 1898; included Andrew Carnegie, Jane Addams, Samuel Gompers, and Mark Twain

Treaty was barely ratified by U.S. in 1899; also defeated was a proposal that the Philippines become independent once their stability was established—therefore, Philippines would stay under U.S. control

William Jennings Bryan again ran against McKinley in the Pres. election of 1900, this time on an anti-imperialist platform, but lost again; McKinley and new Vice-President candidate Teddy Roosevelt pushed a nationalist, patriotic platform; McKinley won
Imperial Ambitions: The United States and East Asia

Main idea: As the United States took on the role of new world power, its imperialist ambitions looked to Latin America and East Asia.

The Filipino-American War

Main idea: The U.S. used brutal tactics to suppress the native Filipinos and their government, establishing a colonial government by 1902.

Filipino nationalists were like Cuban nationalists in that they were already fighting Spain for independence; when the U.S. moved in, they expected U.S. to be allies to aid in independence, even creating a declaration of independence and a government of the Philippine Republic; Filipino leader is Emilio Aguinaldo

However, U.S. forces took control, dispersing the Filipino government and establishing a colonial government

Filipino forces fought back, resulting in the Filipino-American War (1899-1902); U.S. used nearly 4x the troops to suppress the Filipinos as it took to defeat Spain, using many of the same brutal tactics that the U.S. had criticized the Spanish for using; American racism played a large role

African-Americans and the Anti-Imperialist League protested the war

By 1902, the Filipinos were largely subjugated and the U.S. colonial government, under Taft, instituted schools, roads, health system, and a more stable economy that tied the Philippines to the U.S. culturally and economically
China and the Open Door

Main idea: Worried at the prospect of losing trade and influence in Asia, the U.S. pushed for an “Open Door” policy with European nations in China.

Japan, Russia, Germany, Britain, France, etc. (major powers of the 19th-20th century) all scrambled to imperialize their own “slice” of China; the U.S. Secretary of State John Hay pushed for an “Open Door” policy

Open Door policy – all nations had equal opportunity to invest and trade with foreign countries, as opposed to a policy of exclusive, colonial trade between the mother country and its occupied territory; informal economic imperialism instead of formal colonial occupation imperialism

Boxer Rebellion – Chinese nationalists rose up to fight off foreign imperialism into their country, but were defeated by the other countries, including the U.S.

Sphere of influence – extent of a nation’s influence into other lands

Rivalry with Japan and Russia

Main idea: U.S. relations with Japan deteriorated when the U.S. negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War and limited Japanese immigration.

Japan and Russia were more involved in China than other European countries and were more resistant to the Open Door policy

1904 – Russo-Japanese War broke out over imperialism in China; fearful of the expanding interests of both, Roosevelt helped negotiate the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905, in which Japan won some of Russia’s territory

Japan emerged as a world power after the Russo-Japanese War

Japanese resented the U.S. involvement, and they believed they could’ve won more land from Russia/China had the U.S. not intervened

U.S. segregation and limiting of Japanese immigration on the west coast also caused tension

Japan began limiting U.S. involvement and trade in China in defiance of the Open Door policy; tensions rise and continue for decades

Imperial Power: The U.S. and Latin America

Main idea: The U.S. intervened in Latin America over twenty times in the early 1900s to promote its own interests and provoking lasting resentment in the region.

U.S. Rule in Puerto Rico

Main idea: U.S. took control of Puerto Rico and established a territorial government, granting Puerto Ricans citizenship and promoting economic development, but mostly for the benefit of Americans and at the expense of Puerto Ricans.

Congress and the Supreme Court established Puerto Rico as an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S., which it still is today, with no promise of statehood

Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917; Puerto Ricans today can vote in all local elections and national primaries, but can not vote in Presidential elections while they still live in Puerto Rico; they elect a non-voting representative for Congress; they do not pay most Federal taxes

Economic development favored American sugar planters, who reaped the profits at the expense of poverty and widespread hunger of common Puerto Ricans; many left for the U.S.
Cuba as a U.S. Protectorate

Main idea: Cuba was granted independence but stayed firmly under control of the U.S.

Teller Amendment guaranteed Cuban independence, but there was little true independence; Cuba created a constitution, but it was forced to include the Platt Amendment, restricting Cuba’s international relations and economic development to the U.S.; also included authorization for the U.S. to be militarily involved in Cuban control and protection

U.S. rescinded the “Open Door” policy in its own sphere of influence in Cuba and Latin America; U.S. sent troops to Cuba several times to ensure its dominance

U.S. did improve health, roads, schools, finances, etc.
The Panama Canal

Main idea: The U.S. under Theodore Roosevelt coordinated a seizure of Panama from Colombia for the building of the Panama Canal.

U.S. wanted to build the canal to help coordinate and link its new imperial acquisitions in the Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as for obvious commercial benefits, instead of having to ship goods around South America

French company had failed to create a working canal, so in 1902 Roosevelt offered Colombia money to buy their claim and build a canal; Colombia refused, hoping for more money and fearing U.S. intervention

Instead, Roosevelt engineered a deal with the French company to support a rebellion of the Panamanians against Colombia; U.S. forces prevented the Colombian forces from intervening and Panama became a nation under the control of the French company, who promptly accepted Roosevelt’s terms for the canal

Panama Canal was completed by 1914; Panama was a protectorate of the U.S. like Cuba

Some Americans were appalled at Roosevelt’s maneuvers while others supported the new canal at any cost; Latin Americans in general were angered and resentful
The Roosevelt Corollary

Main idea: Roosevelt proclaimed the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine to justify past and future interventions in Latin America.

Monroe Doctrine (1824) – U.S. proclaims that European countries could no longer interfere and colonize in the Western Hemisphere (Latin America)

Roosevelt Corollary (1904) – U.S. proclaims that it may interfere in Latin America if necessary, in order to police, control, and prevent European intervention

Again, Latin Americans protest and resent American policy
Dollar Diplomacy

Main idea: Taft’s “Dollar Diplomacy” emphasized U.S. economic involvement in Latin America as well as political and military, increasing U.S. influence and Latin American resentment in the region.

Dollar Diplomacy – U.S. policy of “substituting dollars for bullets” in Latin American intervention, to increase U.S. imperialist influence and control through business, not politics or military

In reality, Taft used more military force than Roosevelt did, intervening in Nicaragua

Dollar Diplomacy tied Latin American countries to U.S. financing and banks, increasing American influence, but economically benefiting mostly U.S. Americans, not the Latin Americans; again, Latin Americans resented the policy
Wilsonian Interventions

Main idea: The U.S. under President Wilson intervened in the Caribbean and Mexico, increasing American influence and Latin American resentment in the regions.

Wilson promised that the U.S. would not seek more “territory by conquest” when he took office in 1913, but would promote “human rights, national integrity, and opportunity”; he named anti-imperialist William Jennings Bryan as Secretary of State

Yet Wilson believed in the expansion of U.S. exports and investment and dominance of Latin America for this purpose; he also was a strong imperialist, his tactics sometimes dubbed “missionary diplomacy” because of its self-righteousness and attempts to transform other nations into his beliefs

U.S. interventions by Wilson:

Haiti, 1915-1934 – American military rule improves public works, but provokes widespread resentment; 3000 Haitians killed by U.S. Marines in 1919

Dominican Republic, 1916-1924

Cuba, 1917-1922

Mexico, 1913-1917

Mexico, 1913 – Revolutionaries ousted the dictator of Mexico, then the revolutionaries were defeated by General Victoriano Huerta in a brutal coup; Wilson supported and supplied other revolutionaries who were trying to oust Huerta, even sending troops to attack and occupy Mexican territory; Carranza and revolutionaries toppled Huerta

Francisco “Pancho” Villa of Mexico terrorized New Mexico and Texas with attacks in response to American intervention for Carranza; Wilson ordered American troops in 1916 to find and defeat Villa, but soon faced Mexican troops; on the verge of war with Mexico, Wilson backed down and focused on the upcoming involvement in World War I in Europe

Wilson’s policies in Mexico had largely failed, embarrassed the U.S., and once again created resentment among Latin Americans

Overall main idea: Between 1867 and 1917 the United States expanded overseas through imperialism, resulting in territorial acquisition, political and economic control, and resentment of East Asia and Latin America.

Key terms - Ch. 22 on Imperialism

Roots of Imperialism


“Scramble for Africa”

Motives for imperialism

Anglo-Saxonism superiority / White Man’s Burden

Alfred Mahan & Mahanism

Commodore Matthew Perry
First steps

“Seward’s Folly”

Queen Liliuokalani

Annexation of Hawaii

Monroe Doctrine
Spanish-American War

Cuban Revolution

Yellow press/journalism

William Randolph Hearst

Joseph Pulitzer

U.S.S. Maine

“Remember the Maine!”
Teller Amendment

Spanish-American War

Rough Riders

Treaty of Paris 1898

Platt Amendment
East Asia

Anti-Imperialist League

William McKinley

Theodore Roosevelt

Filipino-American War

Open Door Policy

Sphere of influence

Russo-Japanese War

Latin America

Panama Canal

Roosevelt Corollary

Big Stick Policy

William Howard Taft

Dollar Diplomacy

Woodrow Wilson

Pancho Villa

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